Catholics for a Changing Church

Incarnation - Word made flesh - A Christmas challenge!

by Raynah Marise

Every year Christmas comes along, I go through an almost allergic reaction of frustration and incredulity to the usual narrative that is repeated, underlined, emphasised and swallowed unquestioningly by everyone. It is so different from what the story highlighted in the scriptures. It thus ends up in the realms of fairy tales where we listen, exclaim and move on with our lives rather than being an exhortation that should be challenging us to review our lives and see where we stand in comparison to our calling as modelled for us in the Christmas Story. Let me spell out the components of the yardstick that the story presents us.

Choice Vs Compliance - Annunciation

Every rendition of the story highlights Mary’s ‘obedience’ to what she was called by the ‘angel’ to do. The submissive response of obedience to God’s will diminishes Mary’s calling to partner with God in the salvation of humanity! It negates the process she goes through of daring to dialogue, clarify possibilities before she exercises her agency in agreeing to collaborate in the plan for the Word to take flesh in her and through her into the world!

This completely changes the story to include us and calls us to hear the angel calling us to the same challenge to make the Word flesh in and through our lives…. Be collaborators with God today, to enable the continuing of the story of salvation in our times by making the Christ presence a reality in our world, wherever we are.

Will we choose the easier path of letting the Christmas story be superimposed on the fairy-tale story of the commercial Santa Claus that lasts only a season and is then allowed to fade into oblivion until the next year! Yes this reinforces the image of the divine being one whom you ask for favours and receive them without having to do anything… A Santa Claus God who answers prayers when we need something! 

Will we choose unquestioning, submissive compliance to being ‘Church’ as prescribed for us by those who claim authority to ‘know’ the Divine or will be open to listen to the promptings of the Spirit as Mary did, to critique and clarify, to dialogue and if necessary, challenge before choosing to use our own agency to give assent to the incarnation and birthing of the divine within us and through us in the complex contexts we are placed in.

The world needs the active presence of the Word today, to bring peace in the midst of turmoil, violence and confusion; to spread love in the spreading climate of judgement, suspicion and hate; to bring hope to those facing hopelessness because of their being denied their rights and dignity, being ‘othered’ because of their choices of religion, gender, sexuality, etc. Can we hear the call to incarnate the Word in our lives and in our world today?

Accompaniment & Solidarity - Visitation

A part of the story glossed over is Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. The narrative we hear focusses on her going to visit her cousin and the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaping in recognition of the presence of the messiah in Mary’s womb.

Mary and Elizabeth, two women at the two ends of the spectrum of productive womanhood, both in questionable situations of pregnancy: one because of it being out of wedlock the other because it is after years of being barre. Both socially considered as occasions of shame because of the societal norms of that time as dictated by patriarchal morality. Yet both these situations also speak of a God of the Impossible who intervenes in the lives of those who choose to trust and love unconditionally… a God who intervenes not according to our specifications of appropriate timing and situations but shows us that all time and situations are sacred and open to divine interruption.

Mary reaches out to her elderly cousin, putting aside her own troubling situation and its possible repercussions and reaches out in compassionate, loving, supportive solidarity to Elizabeth for as long as needed. Elizabeth in her turn allows the Spirit’s promptings within her to recognise the Messiah in her young cousin’s womb and cries out with joy! Mary filled with the Spirit responds with the Magnificat where she proclaims a reversal of the social, economic and political order under divine rule.

What does this special interaction call us to? Mary calls us by her example to be sensitive to the situation of other women in difficult situations and to unreservedly respond to them and make the divine present to them. It calls to my mind victims of abuse and violence in our neighbourhoods, communities and religious congregations. Do we look at them with the lens of suspicion, apathy or indifference, or like Mary, do we put on the lens of compassionate non-judgmental love and reach out to them?  I think of the women of Shaheen Baug who came together out of their homes to proclaim their support for each other, for the truth and for the constitutional provisions. Women victims of domestic violence in the North East come to my mind, those who come together to cry, pray for and with each other, heal each other’s wounds so they can continue for another week in their oppressive situations from which they see no way out. I think of Women hugging trees, doing what they can to protect and protest environmental rape; Mothers whose young sons disappear without a trace, or are lynched, or unjustly blamed; Women I resonate with in difficult situations, weeping into our pillows, longing for someone to hear our hidden cries and comfort our aching hearts! Can we, men, women, and all others be Marys reaching out in compassionate, unquestioning, support to the Elizabeths in our midst today proclaiming the Magnificat by our solidarity and stance for justice, equality of dignity and rights.

Jesus Dead or Christ Alive

Does the Christmas narrative of the beautiful cherubic baby, singing angels, wandering wise men and shepherds have any connection with the bleeding, bruised figure on the cross and the resurrected presence encountered by the disciples, both, the deniers and the doubters” Somehow, we get lost in the enchantment of the first part, mourn at the season of the second part and have amnesia about the third, most important part. Unless we see the connection of the three, the peace, love and hope we speak about this season of Christmas has no meaning and no real significance.

It is Mary’s journey from the annunciation, to the visitation, the nativity, accompanying him from a distance as he preached, taught, healed and comforted and as he carried his cross. It did not end with her having his lifeless body laid across her lap nor with her saying farewell to him in his tomb. She experienced his resurrected presence among the disciples and then went on to being his presence to the fledgeling community of Christians, nurturing them by her word and witness to know her son and his teachings, supporting them, accompanying them as they in turn said their ‘YES’ to the Word becoming flesh in their lives and their birthing of this new way of being that he had demonstrated!

For me this is what the Christmas story is all about. A challenge! A Challenge to Dialogue with the Divine, to let the promptings of the Spirit give me Clarity so I can make Conscious, Continuous, Choices aligned to the will of the Divine. For only then will the resurrected Christ live and reign and a kin-dom of love and hope, peace and justice spread.

Will the Word be made flesh in you?

Raynah Marise is the National Convenor, Indian Christian Women’s Movement.
Chairperson, Women’s Commission, Diocese of Poona.

St. John, the High Priest, and the fish.

by Ann Lardeur, B.D., M.Th.

“The Jesus Boat” 1st century AD, discovered in 1986 Photo Wikipedia

Amid the drama of the Passion of Our Lord, a small detail in St. John’s account, read each Good Friday, an intriguing detail slips by unnoticed. He tells us when Jesus is taken into the palace of the High Priest, Caiaphas, “Simon Peter, followed Jesus, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus, into the high priest’s palace but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the High Priest, went out and spoke to the woman who was keeping the door, and brought Peter in.” John 18:15 &16

“The other disciple” is John. He never names himself but his prominence and closeness to Jesus is very clear in the Synoptic Gospels., e.g. at the Transfiguration and at Gethsemane along with Peter and James.

How could John, a Galilean fisherman, not only know the maid on the door, be known to the High Priest? The answer lies in the important part played by the fishing business centred in the towns along the Sea of Galilee. In the gospels it is the background to the call of the disciples and in Jesus’ interaction with various people and of course the multiplication of the loaves and fish.

There are hints to size of the fisheries. Zebedee had employees. They worked as a co-operative; other boats were called in to help with “the miraculous draft of fishes” (Luke 5:1-11)

After the miracle of the loaves and the fish in Mark 8:10 Jesus sends the crowd away, gets into the boat with his disciples and goes to the region of Dalmanutha.

In some manuscripts of Mark 8:10 the town is referred to as Mageda or even Dalmanutha, but it’s proper name is Magdala (מגדלא ), which is simply the Aramaic word for “tower”. This may refer to a “fish tower,” a structure used to air-dry fish before they were transported to distant marketplaces as far away as Greece and Rome.

In the hot climate fresh fish did not travel well. It is roughly 90 miles to Jerusalem so with loaded donkeys and overnight stops the journey could take several days. Instead fish were dried and salted. People were needed to be in charge of deliveries and take back orders. If John is fulfilling this role he would certainly been known at the entrance and the High Priest would be eating fish caught by Jesus’ disciples.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, born in AD 37 in Jerusalem, refers Magdala’s reputation for fish-curing, calling it Magdala Taricheae ( Magdala of the fish salters). It had a population of around 40,000 and a fleet of 230 fishing boats. He does not record the other fishing towns.

The final reference to fishing is John’s Gospel is Chapter 21. Peter says he is going fishing, the others followed. They catch nothing all night. In the light of dawn they see Jesus, who tells them to throw the net to starboard; the result is the miraculous haul of 153 large fish. There are various interpretations as to the significance of that number. I personally prefer the fact that it is a triangular number symbolising the Trinity. Imagine them laid out like the frame of balls at the start of a game of snooker.


Participation of the Laity in the Governing, Teaching and Sanctifying Office of the Church

Fresco of Christians eating together at a tomb in the Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus and Peter, Via Labicana, Rome.

The Canon Law Society of India offers this lecture by Fr. A. Anandarayar.  It begins:

When we turn the pages of early church history we find that lay people had played a significant role in the mission of the church. But due to clericalism in the Middle Ages lay people came to be considered as second grade members of the church and their role was reduced to a passive one. The 1917 code defined laity in negative terms and it had just two canons on laity. Vatican II restores the positive image of lay people and their vital role in the mission of the church. The 1983 code spells out concretely the various possibilities of greater involvement of lay people in the three-fold function of the church. The 1987 Synod of Bishops devoted its attention to the important theme of: “Vocation and mission of the Laity in the Church and in the World, twenty years after the second Vatican Council”. The status and functions of the lay people in the church is certainly one of the foremost ecclesiological phenomena or our time. In this presentation we would like to make a study on the participation of lay people in the governing, teaching and sanctifying office of the church. This study consists of two parts. In part one, we analyze some important concepts such as “Lay Person,” “Ecclesiastical Office”, “Ministry” and “Jurisdiction”. In the second part we make a study on the actual provisions made by the 1983 Code for the participation of the Laity in the governing, teaching and sanctifying office of the church.

Read the Lecture

The economics of the Common Good

A friend pointed us to this lecture by Maurice Glasman to the Catholic Union in 2019.  A paragraph stood out to us and serves as an introduction:

"The need for a new political economy is desperate but elusive, and this is the root cause of the impatient malaise in our contemporary politics where no one believes in the remedies offered and yet there is no constructive alternative available. It feels like we are in a perpetual doom loop in which the same dogmatic banalities are endlessly repeated and the mantra of change and innovation only leads to more of the same. It is one of the tragic paradoxes of our time that it was the abandonment of the Catholic orientation of the EU in favour of a more utilitarian and British conception of the economy that opened the door for Brexit and the solution to its problems lie in its recovery of the fundamental ideas of subsidiarity, status and solidarity within the economy that were the basis of the West-German economy and the origin of European co-operation in terms of coal and steel as well as agriculture."

Read the lecture on the website of Together for the Common Good

Maurice Glasman is a political theorist, academic, social commentator and Labour life peer in the House of Lords. He is Director of the Common Good Foundation and is best known as a founder of Blue Labour, a term he coined in 2009.

This lecture was first given as the annual Craigmyle Lecture at Notre Dame University in London on October 10th, 2019, hosted by the Catholic Union of Great Britain.

You may also be interested in: Marxism’s gift to the Church and How Catholic Social Teaching saved me from an academic crisis and From Contract to Covenant

Advent 2022

By J A Dick


Sunday, November 27th is the first Sunday of Advent 2022, a time of reflective preparation for celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth: God’s revelation of Divinity as well as God’s revelation of authentic humanity. 

Regardless where we are on planet Earth these days, we are witnessing a major shift in human history. Perhaps we no longer have the best language or imagery to correctly describe and interpret what’s happening. Perhaps we have grown so accustomed to inflated rhetoric and public relations packaging that we have lost our perspective on the human drama that is reshaping our lives. People are fearful and anxious about losing identity: national identities, religious identities, sex and gender identities, racial and ethnic identities. 

A person’s identity was once based on a common language, a common religious tradition, and ancestral, social, cultural, or national experiences. Today, in a world of tremendous human migrations across all the ancient boarders, and with ever-growing cyber communications networks, identities are changing, whether people are comfortable or not about the new realities. 

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J.A. Dick

John A. Dick is an American Catholic academic who has taught historical theology for many years at at the University of Leuven, Belgium.